4 races to watch in the Texas primary
The 2022 midterm elections kick off in earnest Tuesday as voting concludes in Texas for the state's primary. (Polls close at 7 p.m. local time. Follow key results here.)
Top GOP statewide leaders face reelection challenges from fellow Republicans, while congressional and state legislative candidates navigate redrawn political maps.
Texas, which gained two congressional districts in redistricting, will be a focal point for the two major parties as they jockey for control of the U.S. House. Democrats aim to preserve their narrow majority in what's expected to be a tough cycle for them.
While many Texas suburbs trended more Democratic in the 2020 and 2018 elections, former President Donald Trump made significant gains in 2020 among voters at the heavily Latino southern border, a traditionally important location for Democrats.
The Lone Star State's elections system is also not without contention. The Department of Justice is suing the state over its redistricting plan, and the primary is the first election since GOP state lawmakers enacted new voting restrictions. Thousands of voters have run into issues navigating new requirements, such as with mail-in ballots.
Here are four Texas races to watch as results come in:
1. 28th Congressional District
The marquee match-up is on the Democratic side, where progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros is challenging longtime Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, as he simultaneously deals with an FBI probe.
Cuellar — who's represented the district, which spans from the south ends of San Antonio through Laredo, for nine terms — narrowly beat Cisneros in 2020.
Cisneros, who's 28, supports progressive ideas like Medicare for all, the Green New Deal and free public college, while Cuellar is one of the most conservative House Democrats, taking right-leaning stances on abortion rights and immigration issues.
Endorsements from progressive leaders are pouring in for Cisneros, including from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
January FBI raids of Cuellar's home and office have altered the race.
Cuellar co-chairs the House Azerbaijan Caucus, and news outlets like ABC and CBS News report that the raids are part of a federal investigation into the country and U.S. businessmen who have ties to it. NPR has not confirmed that reporting. Cuellar says there's been no wrongdoing on his part.
Cuellar, 66, has received an endorsement from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. However, despite supporting him in 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has yet to make a public endorsement.
Though Cisneros has given Cuellar a run for his money before, the overall ideological lean of the 28th district remains uncertain. If Cisneros were to defeat Cuellar in the primary, she'd be running on a significantly more progressive platform than he has in the past, which could push away more moderate Democratic voters.
Regardless of who wins the primary, Republicans undoubtedly have their eye on the district. Cook Political Report currently labels the 28th as just leaning Democratic.
2. 15th Congressional District
The 15th, which spans east of San Antonio through McAllen, is both an open and competitive district.
Following the state's latest round of redistricting, the district now skews slightly more Republican than before, prompting current Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez to run for the nearby 34th district instead, a safely blue seat.
From Trump to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republicans across the country are backing Monica De La Cruz's candidacy to take the 15th district.
De La Cruz, an insurance agent who lost to Gonzalez in 2020 by less than 3 percentage points, has got the biggest fundraising haul, and is seen as the front-runner in the race — notwithstanding a crowded field of lesser-known Republican candidates.
Despite her national support, De La Cruz's candidacy has met controversy. Her estranged husband is accusing her of showing "cruel and aggressive conduct" toward his daughter — an allegation De La Cruz denies. As part of their ongoing legal battle, De La Cruz cannot return to the home she shared with her husband until April.
On the Democratic side, both progressive and moderate candidates have thrown their hat in the ring, though no one rivals De La Cruz in fundraising or name recognition. Gonzalez has endorsed Army veteran Ruben Ramirez to fill the seat.
3. Governor's race
Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott is seeking a third term, but first must get past primary challengers who are attacking him from the right. Polls have Abbott, who has been endorsed by Trump, in strong position, and he's sitting on a substantial war chest of around $65 million.
Abbott may need the money for what could be a high-profile general election match-up against former presidential candidate and Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who stands as the clear front-runner on the Democratic side.
Though Abbott leads against O'Rourke in recent polling of the red state — and though Texas hasn't elected a Democratic governor in 32 years — O'Rourke has defied expectations before. He came close to ousting Sen. Ted Cruz in his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate. However, that was a particularly solid year for Democrats when they ran as the opposition to Trump.
4. Attorney general's race
Embattled Republican incumbent Ken Paxton faces primary challenges from Rep. Louie Gohmert, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush and nephew of George W. Bush.
Though the two-term attorney general is polling higher than his competitors, he's still in jeopardy of triggering a runoff election. A recent UT/Texas Tribune survey had him at 47%, with Bush in second at 21% — which would put Paxton under the 50% threshold needed to avoid a May runoff.
Trump has endorsed Paxton, who supports the former president's false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and filed a legal challenge against election results in multiple states. He also appeared at the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Gohmert — who entered the race after Trump had endorsed Paxton — is also a big ally of the former president.
Legal controversies involving Paxton have surfaced throughout his tenure as attorney general, but currently, he's facing an FBI investigation over claims of bribery and abuse of office by way of multiple whistleblowers. He's also accused of violating Texas' open records law for refusing to turn over related planning communication from the days leading up to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
On the Democratic primary side, former ACLU lawyer Rochelle Garza leads in recent polling. Trailing Garza is Joe Jaworski, a lawyer and former mayor of Galveston. Lower in the same poll is civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who gained national attention representing several families of Black men who were shot and killed by police, including George Floyd.
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